Saturday, July 25, 2015


For years our media has been consumed with tragic stories of mass shootings and other horrific crimes committed not by hardened criminals but by emotionally disturbed individuals who have fallen through the ever-widening gaps that exist in our nation's mental health system. Since the onset of Reaganomics in California, when as Govenor he was able to initiate the dismantling of the state-operated hospitals for the mentally and emotionally-disabled here, there has been a nation-wide pattern of closing, under-funding, and otherwise weakening what had previously been one of the world's premier mental health systems. We now almost daily read about the results of our failing mental health system. Shootings committed by the person next door that neighbors may have thought to be a little strange but no real problem, only his or her family or closest friends knew of the emotional or behavioral problems that were problematic but resistant to any treatment attempts;  homeless people, often reduced to begging on the streets, the majority of which have emotional disturbances but lack the capacity or resources to find effective help; jails and prisons which are increasingly housing people whose emotional needs were paramount in triggering legal infractions but found no accessible avenues for dealing with those needs short of breaking the law; veterans returning from combat experiences anyone would have difficulty accepting, finding the drugs and therapy the VA offered to deal with their PTSD being delayed, inadequate, and poorly monitored and sustained; and young people in urban areas leaving high school poorly prepared for being productive, being unemployed or underemployed, depressed over the lack of positive options, alienated, often prone to affiliating with gangs or other dead-end avenues. The systematic decline in our mental health system has been going on for at least 35 years, beginning slowly at first, accelerating rapidly during more recent years.  The results are all too obvious, but do our political leaders REALLY care? If they do, where is the evidence?  With each tragedy they are quick to express their sorrow and dismay, but has ANY effective action resulted?  Mental hospitals are still closed, jails are increasing housing mentally disturbed people, not hardened criminals, community mental health services are still being underfunded, services denied or referred to privately-funded clinics for those with the ability to pay.  The visible efforts are all in the direction of providing more security within our communities in the attempt to prevent the tragedies, but the real cause, the increasing incidence of people developing serious mental and emotional problems that are not being attended to effectively in the early stages and as they grow in severity, is being ignored. A  "perfect storm" is created by the ready availability of guns, including assault weapons, in our nation combined with the acceleration in the number of emotional disturbed individuals on the streets of our communities. Since politicians have been unwilling or unable to restrict the easy access to guns, the remaining option is to deal more proactively with the emotionally distraught.   Families are typically not able to deal with the emotional concerns of their loved ones, it becomes a community and a societal problem. Politicians  closed the hospitals, reduced funding for services and half-way houses offering therapeutic treatment, eliminated the early warning network that is essential to effective intervention.   They have the power to restore the needed system.  But where are they? It is, after all, a problem that obviously effects all of us, just as much as the foreign threats our politicians are so quick to address with ready funding and manpower. Isn't it time our leaders express more than sympathy and regret? One would hope so.  Enough of the kind words, time for action!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Barack Obama's presidency has been fascinating to observe for the dispassionate viewer, and has triggered strong and highly polarized reactions from the political partisans on both sides of the increasingly divided right-left extremes.  He has greatly disappointed his most loyal original supporters, and totally enraged those who were not inclined to support him at the outset. His brilliant oratory in campaigning, paired with his obvious intelligence and potential, undoubtedly escalated his supporters expectations of his presidency into the unrealistic realms of what was politically possible. And the overtly-declared intent of his political opponents in Congress to oppose and defeat his political endeavors and render his presidency impotent presented almost insurmountable obstacles at the outset.  Yet he has endured, struggled through battles with Congress, won reelection, and fought several battles with considerable class and fortitude. He has persisted in two highly significant endeavors, one at the beginning of his first term, when he was committed to improve health care coverage and did so with his Affordable Care Act. The second he is now engaged in, negotiating the agreement with Iran and our partners to limit, with IAEA verification, Iran's nuclear development during the forthcoming years. Both highly contentious battles, both imperfect solutions to extremely complex, difficult situations, he fought the battles impressively, against considerable odds for success, bowed to the realities of the situations, compromising with what he felt were the realities of the maximum that was possible  in the face of fierce opposition.  He deserves full credit for persisting in these battles, regardless of how much one may have wished for more. 

Obama has shown other moments of inspired, enlightened leadership. His response to the recent shooting at the Charleston Church, the genuine, heartfelt quality of his words when the nation experienced a national tragedy such as this, added to the remarkable response of the church and the Charleston community itself in turning this tragedy into a unifying event for everyone in the nation but the most hateful racists.  He has maintained grace and optimism in the face of personal insults and affronts, to his character as well as to his policies, as well as any individual could ever hope to.  On numerous key issues facing the nation, however, his leadership has fallen well short of what has been needed, and short of what his spoken words suggested he might be willing to fight for, lacking the same degree of commitment he has evidenced on the above-mentioned issues.  These issues deserve enumeration, and recognition as significant concerns that merit serious attention by the chief of state. Without any attempt to rank their importance, as most observers would agree they are all important but vary widely on which are paramount, they include 1) the environmental, human-influenced factors contributing to world-wide climate change, 2) the growing income and wealth disparity in our nation, continuing to weaken our middle and lower classes relative to the most wealthy, influencing quality of education, opportunity, national cohesiveness, and youth alienation, 3) the proliferation of violence in our society, influenced by absence of a sufficient social service and mental health network, ready availability of guns without adequate registration and control, and dwindling opportunities for accepted avenues of social advancement, 4) infrastructure redevelopment, greatly needed to improve quality of transportation, neighborhoods, and life, especially in the more impoverished communities of the country, 5) re-instituting a more fair system of taxation, one that more fully spreads the benefits of our economic system to all levels of society, and re-installing the corporate and financial regulations that have been systematically removed during the last 35 years, like Glass-Steagall, which had been effective in limiting corporate malfeasance, preventing excessive accumulation of wealth in too few hands, and ensuring against occurrences like the financial collapse of 2008, 6) correcting some of the impediments that exist within our democratic system of governance, including infringements on the voting rights of all citizens, the excessive power of money and the media in determining the outcome of elections, and the threat of predatory surveillance and violation of privacy rights, and 7) controlling our nation's reflex tendency, especially among the neocons who are still in our government and their influence over our media and our military, to believe that international disputes can most readily, and best, be resolved by use of our overwhelming military power. The last 12 years in the Middle East should have disproven that belief, but we are still militarily engaged there, with no end in sight, and Obama is proving with Iran how difficult it is to attempt to lead with diplomacy and negotiation rather than relying on threats or use of military force.  This is obviously only a partial list of significant issues. Obama has spoken with some conviction on each of them at times, but only on the health care act and the recent Iran treaty negotiations has he really followed through with sustained, vigorous effort. One is left believing that his heart is in a forward-moving direction, that he may have the audacity of hope, but that his commitment or his energy flagged on some of the key issues he has faced.  He deserves full credit for what he has accomplished, and for the obstacles he has faced with grace and courage. And he leaves his strongest supporters to deal with their feelings about the tasks left unresolved, and for leaders-to-follow to attempt to surmount.